Sunday, June 3, 2012

Milk Donor Mamas

After Emma was born, I was blessed with an abundant supply of milk.  I remember on a couple occasions pumping 16 ounces in one session.  I yearned to donate milk to a bank that provided milk to hospitals, but because I occasionally took medication, I was unable to donate. I wish that I would have found the milk sharing community at the time.

I knew that if I had the chance, I would donate milk.  When I became pregnant with Avery, I started to research human milk sharing.  Don't get me wrong - milk banks do wonderful work. (That is, legitimate milk banks, but I'll have to cover that in another post.)  However, milk banks charge upwards of $5 an ounce.  Considering that an infant consumes an average of 25 ounces per day during their first year, the vast majority of families could never afford banked milk. Milk banks heat-treat milk in order to sanitize the milk, which denatures the milk and creates a less than optimal end product.   Milk sharing allows more babies to be given the often life saving gift of human breast milk.

Is milk sharing safe?  In my opinion, yes.  Breast milk is no longer considered a bodily fluid, and special handling precautions are not required.  Many recipient families are willing to pay for blood work to ensure that donors are free from communicable diseases, and milk can be flash-pasteurized by recipient families if desired.  While milk banks do not accept milk from donors on any medication, even Tylenol, the fact is that many medications are compatible with breastfeeding.  If the donor mom's baby is doing well on her milk, her milk would be fine for most babes.  Milk from banks is pooled, while milk sharing allows recipients to seek out milk from mamas on special diets if needed. For example, a baby may need milk from a mama that does not consume dairy or common allergens.

My donation story is really just beginning.  After pumping while Avery was in the NICU, I was turned off from the breast pump for some time.  I had rented a pump, but decided to return the hospital pump because I am no longer working.  Around that time, I realized that my old pump (used while breastfeeding Emma) was broken.  When we were able, I bought a new pump and began stashing milk away.  I had hoped to save a week's worth of milk.  At some point, seeing how much I could store became a sort of game for me.  Silly, I know.

I asked other moms in my mothering group if they had donated.  I was hoping to hear their experiences, and to get a feel for how donation worked.  Instead of stashing the milk in my freezer, I decided to find a family in need of milk.  Very quickly I had found a recipient family, and had cleared out my freezer.  I have been blessed to give the family almost 300 ounces of breast milk, or about 2.3 gallons worth.  Donating breast milk feels so awesome and empowering.  Not only do my breasts nourish and help my own infant to thrive, but they are nourishing and helping another little one to thrive when they otherwise may not.  I hope to continue to donate throughout my breastfeeding journey, and encourage others to give it a try.

I have created the page Milk Donor Mamas on Facebook to provide support for donor mamas.  If you have donated milk, or are thinking of donating, please join Milk Donor Mamas on Facebook.

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